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Selkirk Advocate takes competitive racing spirit to the pickleball court


By Brynn Grissom

on Apr 02, 2024

A group of pickleball players stand in fall foliage with their pickleball paddles.

When Kelli McRobert’s mother passed away in 2009, she sought solace and a way to channel her grief, which led her to join a running club.

“I met some nice people who showed me that if you set little goals for yourself, it can help build momentum towards a bigger goal,” McRobert says. 

Inspired by those lessons, McRobert, then 46, set her sights on completing 50 road races by the age of 50. The Ontario native accomplished her goal in the first two years, so she began setting different parameters for herself — each race had to be a minimum of a 5K and it had to be in a new location. 

This new quest introduced McRobert to mud races, demanding obstacle courses in which runners must complete various physical challenges in the mud. 

“To be honest, the races are kind of terrifying because as you drive up to a mountain you think, ‘I can’t believe I’m going to have to climb that five times and carry a bag of sand or crawl under razor wire,’” McRobert says. “But it was great for me because it took me out of my comfort zone.” 

Kelli McRobert gives a smile and thumbs up to the camera. She is holding her pickleball paddle and wearing a gold medal.

Despite the intimidation factor, McRobert enjoyed the challenge. Throughout the next five years, she traveled across North America to complete 20-25 races annually, no matter the weather. 

In 2016, she competed in so many races that she was invited to compete at the World Championships as an amateur racer, which she did alongside a group of women all over age 50. 

“It was the best time,” she recalls. “Once I realized we were at the World Championships and it was something we could actually achieve, I wanted to be running alongside the pros the next year.”

So, McRobert started to train even harder. As she was training during a smaller race, she and her running partners climbed a mountain — a routine training exercise for the group — but this time, McRobert didn’t feel too well. 

Thinking it might be overexertion, McRobert cut the race short and descended the mountain. But, something still felt off. 

“I went to the medic and told him I was feeling a bit off and that I was likely dehydrated,” McRobert says. “He checked me out and he said, ‘You’re having a heart attack, so that’s not good.’” 

McRobert was taken via ambulance to a cardiologist who diagnosed her with supraventricular tachycardia, a condition in which the lower chambers of the heart beat very quickly. 

“He then suggested to, ‘Pick a new sport,’” McRobert recalls.  

So, she began taking yoga classes regularly. She was in a yoga session when she heard a classmate discussing pickleball, which immediately piqued her interest. 

They struck a deal. Her classmate would try a mud race and McRobert would try pickleball. 

“I was hooked,” McRobert says. “Literally from the first moment I played, I was hooked. And we played in a very small gym on a hardwood floor, which isn’t an ideal situation, but I knew it was something I wanted to keep doing.” 

McRobert dove in headfirst, joining every committee and club she could find. Now, as a Selkirk Advocate, McRobert is passionate about growing the sport in Canada. She’s currently focused on encouraging the construction of proper indoor pickleball venues to support play during unpredictable weather patterns in Canada.

“We get the luxury of all extreme weather up here,” McRobert jokes. “So we get wind, rain, fire, lack of sunlight. And we really want to play four seasons, so we’ve been starting a lot of grassroots efforts to get courts established in schools, community centers, and churches.” 

Of course, her competitive fire is still there. Just a few years into her pickleball journey, McRobert has already competed in more than 50 pickleball tournaments. 

She is a referee, and also a pickleball coach, certified by Canada’s National Coaching Certification Program and the Professional Pickleball Registry. For those interested in the game, McRobert has one piece of advice. 

“Just jump in,” she says. “It’s so much fun and super easy to learn. Be patient as you do, because as with anything, you have that ebb and flow. But there’s always room to grow.”

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